Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann

Episcopatus Unus Est

On the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas

Today has the grace of the Holy Spirit assembled us together.

(Palm Sunday)

An event of the greatest significance for the future of Orthodoxy in America took place on the afternoon of June 7, 1960, when twelve Bishops representing all major Orthodox Jurisdictions in this country unanimously decided to establish a Standing Conference of Orthodox Bishops in America. It was on March 15, that at the initiative of Archbishop Iakovos, head of the Greek Archdiocese, the Bishops met for the first time to discuss the possibilities of a closer co-operation and unity between various national dioceses. The first meeting revealed the urgent need for such co-operation but also various practical and canonical obstacles on the way to its full realization. It was decided, therefore, to appoint a special commission of four theologians to prepare the draft of a constitution and to report on the canonical problems involved in the creation of a permanent episcopal council. This commission consisting of Fr. Constantine Kazanas (Greek Archdiocese), Fr. Paul Schneirla (Antiochian Archdiocese), Fr. Alexander Schmemann (Russian Metropolia) and Fr. Firmilian Ocokolijch (Serbian Diocese), prepared the text of the Resolution, which was accepted with minor changes on June 7th. It begins with the following Preamble:

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen. Behold how good and how pleasant a thing it is for brethren to dwell together in unity. (Ps. 132)

For the last one hundred and fifty years the Orthodox Church in America has been blessed with many marks of divine favor. Her beginnings in this country were humble. Planted by a handful of Missionaries in Alaska and nourished by successive waves of immigration from Orthodox lands, she is now a great and flourishing member of world Orthodoxy. All of the faithful brought here the treasures of their national Orthodox traditions, so that the American Church is the inheritor and custodian of the glorious paradosis of the Apostles, Fathers, and Ecumenical Councils. Fully integrated in American society, the Church is here to remain, to grow, and to bear witness to the true faith. At the moment when the United States assumes an always greater responsibility in the world community, the presence of Orthodoxy in America acquires a new significance and calls for better forms to express her common testimony. By the mercy of Cod our unity of faith has been preserved. But the time has come to actualize this unity in all those fields in which a common effort is required.

I. Therefore we, the hierarchs of the American Church, have decided to establish a Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas, without reference to the civil laws, for the consideration and resolution of common problems, the coordination of effort in matters of common concern, and the strengthening of that unity which is the essence of Orthodoxy.

(a) We further determine that the Conference meet twice annually for the mutual exchange of information and decisive action, and at other times in emergencies, and that the continuing work of the Conference be assigned to commissions of experts who shall work as directed by the conference and submit biennial reports, in advance, to the meetings of the hierarchs;

(b) that the office of presiding hierarch pass in turn, annually, to the ruling hierarchs of the major national jurisdictions;

(c) that a Study and Planning Committee of theologians and administrators, representing the major hierarchs and appointed by them, be delegated to supervise the work of the appointed commissions, provide appropriate items for the agenda of the meetings, and keep the hierarchs informed of all matters relative to the interests of the Conference and its activities.

(A list of planned commissions followed, but since their official establishment was postponed till the January 1961 session of the conference we omit them in this report.)

II. 1. To interrelate the work of the various commissions appointed and serve as a common clearing house of information, a General Secretariat shall be established to work in close coordination with the Study and Planning Committee established in I (c) above, with an office and budget to he established by the hierarchs.

2. Appointments to the various commissions and committees will be made by the ruling hierarchs of the participating jurisdictions in number to be determined by them.

III. 1. The time and place of each regular session will be determined by the last previous session. All hierarchs attending an announced meeting shall constitute a quorum, and in the absence of the presiding hierarch shall elect a chairman pro tem.

2. It is the duty of the General Secretary to announce in due time the date and place of each meeting.

3. All decisions of the Conference shall require majority to be valid.

The ruling bishops who either in person or through duly authorized representatives accepted this Resolution were: Archbishop Iakovos, Greek Archdiocese of North and South America; Metropolitan Anthony Bashir, Syrian Antiochian Archdiocese; Metropotitan Leonty, Russian Orthodox Church of North Amcrica; Bishop Dionisije, Serbian Diocese of America and Canada; Metropolitan Andrey, Bulgarian Diocese; Bishop Andrey Moldovan, representing the Roumanian Patriarchate in America, and the following Bishops in the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Constantinople: Bishop Bohdan Shpilka, Ukrainian Diocese; Bishop Orestes Chorniak, Carpatho-Russian Diocese; Bishop Mark Lipa, Albanian Diocese, and the Ukrainian Archbishop Palladios (formerly of the Autocephalous Orthodox Church in Poland).

The first two sessions were held at the Greek Archdiocese. The next one took place on October 8, at St. Mary’s Antiochian Church in Brooklyn, New York, under the auspices of the Antiochian Archdiocese. This time Archbishop Iakovos was unanimously elected as first chairman of the Conference for the year 1961. The Conference also appointed the following men to the Study and Planning Committee, provided for in the Constitution: Father Constantine Kazanas, Father Paul Schneirla, Father Alexander Schmemann, Father Molchanny and elected Father Firmilian Ocokolijch as General Secretary. Bishop Iriney of Boston and New England (Russian Metropolia) was elected Treasurer of the Standing Conference and the first pledges to meet the proposed budget were made. The next session is scheduled for January 24, 1961 at the Headquarters of the Russian Metropolia.

Thus, for the first time in America, a constructive step was made towards a real and permanent cooperation of Orthodox Churches in areas, which obviously call for common planning, united efforts and exchange of experience. But even more important than the practical aspect is the spiritual and ecclesiological value of this achievement. For anyone who knows the history and the present situation of Orthodoxy in this country, the various tensions and misunderstandings among jurisdictions and the extent of difficulties which Bishops faced when they decided to meet, the final result was experienced as an action of the Holy Spirit.

Much remains to be done, and we are at the very beginning of a long and difficult journey. But the essential has been achieved: the unity of concern, the desire to put the vital interests of the Church above the temporary difficulties, to fulfill the absolute condition of growth into the fullness of the Church: the unity of those, whom God has appointed as ministers of Church’s unity in faith, love and life: "episcopatus unus est."

St. Vladimir’s Seminary Quarterly, Vol. 4, No. 4, 1960, pp. 26-29